CONELRAD: Mutated Television
Motorola TV Hour: Atomic Attack title screen 1954

The Motorola TV Hour: complete with product placement during CONELRAD broadcasts!

Mutated Television: Shadow on the Hearth

"Atomic Attack," an adaptation of a popular novel of the day (more subtly titled "Shadow on the Hearth") broadcast on a "Playhouse 90"-type show in the fifties serves as a kind of early missing link between the two eras. Phyllis Thaxton in the Motorola TV Hour live broadcast of Atomic Attack, 1954There is a scene in the program where the lead character, a housewife played by Phyllis Thaxter, is doing her chores. Everything appears calm and normal when suddenly sirens start sounding and the wind starts blowing. Thaxter looks out her kitchen window in horror and then runs frantically through her house calling out for her children. As she realizes that her family is not yet home and may be dead, her face reflects her inner terror. A moment later Thaxter hesitantly opens a door and slowly descends a staircase to an unseen shelter. It is a chilling moment that transcends the years.

The scene still resonates with the modern viewer because Thaxter's character suggests the archetypal '50s sitcom mom—the one we all watched in re-runs growing up. There is a powerful feeling of dread in seeing this brief scene because we are witnessing an ideal of American motherhood - Donna Reed, if you will - confronting nuclear holocaust. And, worse yet, Herman Munster tastes the future...she is forced to face this tragedy alone because her husband in the gray flannel suit has been vaporized along with the rest of Manhattan.

One can only imagine how disorienting this program was to people who happened to catch it way back when. Most television consumers in 1954 were accustomed to tuning in to the bland pleasantness of Ozzie and Harriet, not suburban A-bomb terror. Mr. and Mrs. America did not know it yet, but the bomb dropped in "Atomic Attack" (and the bombs dropped in real life) would eventually transmogrify Ward Cleaver into Herman Munster and change TV forever.
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